Authors: Ernest Hill
A Person of Interest
It’s All About the Moon When the Sun Ain’t Shining
Published by Dafina Books
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2003 by Ernest Hill
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First hardcover printing: April 2003
First trade paperback printing: May 2004
First mass market printing: January 2011
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Printed in the United States of America
For my father, Charley Hill Jr.
The ultimate dad
Thanks to my agent, Frank Weimann;
my editor, Karen Thomas;
my family and friends;
and all of the dedicated souls who make
up the Kensington family.
azed and confused, Tyrone backed the truck out of the yard, pulled the lever into drive, depressed the accelerator, and sped toward the main highway. As the truck raced past the lake, he gripped the steering wheel with both hands and stared into the twilight. Though his eyes were clear and his vision was unobstructed, he saw nothing. Not the beautiful, orange July sun that had risen just above the east bank. Not the flock of wild birds dancing in the treetops. Not the stand of fresh honeysuckle that ran parallel to the still blue water and decorated the roadside well past the point at which he turned onto the highway leading into Brownsville.
No, he did not see because he could not see. And he could not see because he was remembering the sound of the soft leather soles of his sister’s slippers sliding across the surface of his mother’s old wooden porch. He was hearing again the soft, steady tapping of her bare knuckles against his closed bedroom door. He was seeing the pain in her wide, bloodshot eyes just before she asked the question: “You heard about your son?”
He had suspected that something was wrong even before she told him. He did not know why. Maybe it was the way she had averted her eyes before she spoke. Or the way she wrung her fingers in her hand. Or the way she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Or maybe it was because in forty years of living he had learned that good news never came this early in the morning.
“No,” he said, alarmed but trying not to think the worst. “What about him?”
“He killed a white gal,” she said, immediately dropping her gaze again before adding, “So the law say.”
The meaning behind her words was clear. The impact instantaneous. He felt his knees buckle. His head became light. He opened his mouth to speak, but shock rendered him silent.
A space of time passed in which he tried to listen to her, but his mind could not focus. Too many thoughts came too quickly. She said a lot of things, but all he could remember was … “He killed her … He raped her … And they done set the date…. He gone die in eight days.”
A thousand times he had driven this route. Ten miles through the swamp … a left at the traffic light… right onto Hospital Road … a double curve … a stop sign … a sharp right turn … a half mile north on Highway 17… left across the tracks … a short drive through the projects … Chatman Avenue … Death Row … home.
His old house came into view, and instantly the last ten years of his life dissipated. Suddenly, he was hearing again the fading sound of his wife’s shoes striking the bare concrete floor outside his tiny cell. He was remembering the sight of her tear-stained eyes, seeing her frail, trembling hands clutching the cold steel bars,
hearing the tone of her unsteady voice as she mumbled, “I can’t do this no mo’.”
He parked his truck on the shoulder of the street, ambled out, and bound toward the house. No sooner had he crossed the yard and climbed the steps onto the porch than he heard someone call to him from the adjacent house.
“Who you looking fo’?”
Instinctively, he turned and looked in the direction of the voice. The woman was sitting on a screen-enclosed porch. The mesh wire from the screen obstructed his vision, and he could not identify her.
“Mrs. Stokes,” he said, instantly wondering why he had said Mrs. Stokes and not “my wife.”
“Pauline?” the woman questioned him.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
Now he recognized her voice. It was Miss Leona.
“She ain’t there,” Miss Leona said. Her voice was friendly, but Tyrone was sure that she still did not recognize him. But how could she? Ten years had passed since he had been sent to prison. He had been a youngster then. Now he was a man.
“You know where she at?” he asked.
“What you want with her?” she wanted to know.
“I come for her,” he told her.
There was an awkward silence, and Tyrone was sure that now she was remembering him.
You the one they used to call Deuce… You the one killed that man over yonder in Cedar Lake
. Suddenly, Tyrone heard the latch on her screen door snap shut.
“What your name?” she asked.
“Tyrone,” he told her, ever aware that she had asked simply to confirm what she suspected.
“You Pauline’s husband, ain’t you?”
“She up to her mama’s.”
“Thank you,” Tyrone said. He turned to leave, but the sound of her voice stopped him.
“You ain’t moving back here, is you?”
“No, ma’am,” he said. “I ain’t.”
“Good,” she said and then quickly added, “I mean … ‘cause ain’t nothing ‘round here for you to do ‘cept get in trouble. And ain’t no sense in looking for trouble if it ain’t looking for you.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, descending the steps and making his way to his truck. As he walked, he understood. He and his family were pariahs. They were trash to be collected and discarded. He started the truck and headed into the country, vowing that his son would be executed over his dead body.
t was seven a.m. when he stopped at the gate leading onto his in-laws’ property. It wasn’t much of a gate (a few pieces of scrap lumber held together mostly by wire) but it was enough to keep the chickens and cows and horses and hogs from straying.
He got out and opened the gate, then got back in, drove the truck through, and got out again. Though it was summer, it had been an unusually hot, dry month, and the long, winding road was covered with fine, loose dust. It was the kind of dust that aggravated the grownups. Especially if the wind was blowing, or if they had laundry hanging on the line, or if they wanted to sit out on the porch and eat a sandwich or nap during the hot part of the day.
But for the kids, these were ideal conditions for rolling tires, or riding bikes, or playing war, or engaging in any type of activity that would cause the dust to rise in their wake, adding tangible evidence of the trail of smoke conjured in their overactive minds. How many times, on days like this, had he watched as his son raced
barefooted down the old dirt road, climbed the gate, retrieved the mail from the box on the opposite side of the street, and raced back to the house?
He shut the gate, climbed back behind the wheel, and hastily guided the truck through the shallow, dry ruts toward the small wood-frame house. Directly through the gate, on the right side of the road, was his brother-in-law Levi Jackson’s house. (Levi and his family had lived there together before his wife took the kids and moved to St. Louis.) Behind Levi’s house was a cow pasture. On the opposite side of the road, just beyond the long, straight rows of cotton, the roof of Joe Jackson’s small two-bedroom trailer was barely visible. Either Levi or Joe had been plowing the field when the news came this morning. He could tell by the way the old John Deere tractor sat halfway down the center of a row with the blades of the plow still deeply embedded in the partially tilled soil.
Flanked by a thick cloud of dust, he stopped just east of the front porch and parked underneath the large tree where the chickens roosted. He killed the engine, pushed the door open, and slid to the ground. He paused for a moment, staring at the simple gray house with the tin roof and the small open porch that was supported by four wood studs. More than ten years had passed since he had seen either his son or his wife, but in a way that he could not explain, it seemed like only yesterday that he had stood across the street from his house, watching the police watching for him, all the time longing for one last glimpse of the woman to whom he had pledged his life and one last word with the son who, because of what he had done, would have to come of age fatherless in the cruel, unforgiving world they called home.
Plagued by a sense of uneasiness, he walked toward the
house, ever aware of the tightness in his arms and legs. He, unlike the prodigal son, was returning to a world that had once rebuked him and that perhaps still did not welcome his presence. With each step forward, he fought against the mounting desire to turn back, and he clung to the faint voice calling from a remote part of his brain, counseling him to continue, persuading him to push on.